Emigration in Estonian Literature: “Self” and “Other” in the Context of European Literature


  • Anneli Mihkelev Tallinna Ülikool Humanitaarteaduste instituut Narva mnt 25 Tallinn 10120




(Estonian) exile literature, surrealism, entangled memory, cultural memory, identity, trauma, remembering


The experience of emigration generated a new paradigm in Estonian culture and literature. After World War II Sweden became a new homeland for many people. Estonian culture and literature suddenly became divided into two parts. The political terror imposed restrictions on literature in homeland and the national ideology limited literature in the initial years of exile. Both were closed communities and were monolingual systems in a cultural sense because these systems avoided dialogue and the influence of other signs. It was a traumatic experience for nation and culture where the totalitarian political power and trauma have allied. The normal cultural communication was destroyed. But the most important thing at this time was memory, not just memory but entangled memory, which emigrants carried with them to the new homeland and which influenced people in Estonia. The act of remembering becomes crucial in the exile cultures.

Estonian literature in exile and in the homeland presents the fundamental images of opening or closing, escaping or staying, and of flight or fight. Surrealism as well as fantasy and science fiction as the literary styles reveal what is hidden in the unconscious of a poet or a person or even in the collective memory of a nation. Surrealism has played a certain role in our literature, but it has been different from French surrealism, it is a uniquely Estonian surrealism. At the same time Estonia was already a new homeland for many refugees from Russia who had escaped during the Revolution of 1917 and World War I. August Gailit and Oskar Luts wrote about that issue in different literary works. Luts entangled different memories in his novel Tagahoovis (In the Backyard, 1933): the memories of Estonians and the memories of Russian emigrants. He also entangled historical narratives about World War I, the Russian revolution and the young Estonian state in the 1920s. Luts wrote about common people who interpret historical narratives. The novel was also published in exile in 1969 in Toronto.


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